October is breast cancer awareness month. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Be proactive by educating yourself and join in the cause to help women in need today.
Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. Each year in the United States, more than 250,000 women get breast cancer and 42,000 women die from the disease. Some additional facts include the following:
- In 2020, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. as well as 48,530 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
- 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. It is estimated that in 2020, approximately 30% of all new women cancer diagnoses will be breast cancer.
- There are over 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
- On average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States.
Breast cancer can present with various symptoms and some individuals may have no symptoms at all. Symptoms can include:
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood).
- A new lump in the breast or underarm.
You should consult a physician right away if you have any signs that worry you.
Studies have shown that your risk for breast cancer is due to a combination of factors. The main factors that influence your risk include being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancers are found in women who are 50 years old or older.
Some women will get breast cancer even without any other risk factors that they know of. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get the disease, and not all risk factors have the same effect.
Most women have some risk factors, but most women do not get breast cancer. If you have breast cancer risk factors, talk with your doctor about ways you can lower your risk and about screening for breast cancer.
Risk factors you cannot change
- Getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age; most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
- Genetic mutations. Inherited changes (mutations) to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited these genetic changes are at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Reproductive history. Early menstrual periods before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose women to hormones longer, raising their risk of getting breast cancer.
- Having dense breasts. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases. Women who have had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Family history of breast or ovarian cancer. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has a mother, sister, or daughter (first-degree relative) or multiple family members on either her mother’s or father’s side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.
- Previous treatment using radiation therapy. Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or breasts (like for treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) before age 30 have a higher risk of getting breast cancer later in life.
- Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), which was given to some pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them are also at risk.
A diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and beans plays a role in cancer prevention. As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Anna Jones prepared this No Boil Veggie Lasagna, packed with spinach, red peppers and tomatoes. (Photo: Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat, Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)
Risk factors you can change
- Not being physically active. Women who are not physically active have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese after menopause. Older women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than those at a normal weight.
- Taking hormones. Some forms of hormone replacement therapy (those that include both estrogen and progesterone) taken during menopause can raise risk for breast cancer when taken for more than five years. Certain oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also have been found to raise breast cancer risk.
- Reproductive history. Having the first pregnancy after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
- Drinking alcohol. Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with the more alcohol she drinks.
Research suggests that other factors such as smoking, being exposed to chemicals that can cause cancer and changes in other hormones due to night shift working may also increase breast cancer risk.
Learn about Breast Cancer
Early detection and knowledge can help one be proactive with breast health and saves lives. The National Breast Cancer organization provides a good online resource to educate one’s self with a focus on the following topics relevant for breast cancer. These include the following: overview, early detection, diagnosis, stages, types, treatment, myths FAQs and breast cancer resources. The most commonly read topics are breast anatomy, treatment & causes of breast cancer.
Access this resource at https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/about-breast-cancer/
One of our top priorities is educating women on what they can do to be proactive with their breast health. Knowledge and early detection saves lives.
General resource on nutrition
Although no single food or diet can prevent or cause breast cancer a person’s dietary choices can make a difference to their risk of developing breast cancer or their overall well-being while living with the condition. Some general information on diet is available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/316720
Thanks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Breast Cancer organization for much of the content in the column.
Mark A. Mahoney, Ph.D. has been a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist for over 34 years and completed graduate studies in Nutrition & Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at [email protected]
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